You're always going to prick up your ears and pay close attention to an artist with a name like Alessi if, like us, you consider 1977 Top 10 hit Oh Lori by Guilty Pleasures demigods the Alessi Brothers to be a work of wavy-haired, sun-kissed, orchestral-pop genius. Alessi Laurent-Marke is an 18-year-old Londoner whose often sparse acoustic lullabies put her more in the next-Laura-Marling category, but when she and her compadres lay on the strings her songs do assume a poppy lushness that is quite captivating. Her song, Constellations, for example, is a picture of rapture made all the more magical by the generous use of harp and violins (it's actually about freckles). Then again, if you're into the raw and the powerful, the stripped-down visceral and impactful, Laurent-Marke's breathy vocals, tendency towards the ornate and general air of whimsicality are about as far removed from, say, Florence & the Machine as you can possibly get. Horses for courses, innit.
Or rather, The Horse. That's the title of her EP, out now on Virgin, the label that brought us Irish pop-rockers the Thrills, whose own breathily delivered orchestral pop, incidentally, is oddly reminiscent of the music created by Laurent-Marke and her band. That band includes a couple of musicians from Omaha in Nebraska who comprise two-thirds of cult American indie heroes Bright Eyes – namely, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott; that is, the ones who aren't Conor Oberst – and it is they who provide the backing on her debut album. This ranges, as we say, from the simple and spare to the sweeping and symphonic.
Whimsy and wonder are the watchwords, so beware. Fans of the gutsy and earthy should look away now. Laurent-Marke has been writing material like The Asteroids Collide – "about," she explains, "a long-distance love affair, using the metaphor of asteroids as bodies" – since she was 15. She's got songs called Magic Weather complete with suitable fairytale melodies, dream imagery and baroque arrangements. And she writes on her MySpace of her recording-artist counterpart Alessi as "a magical creature … I think of her as this unique 18-year-old girl who is very excited, very alert, and very open to the world of imagination".
She's not all cutesy doe-eyed Disney-esque innocence. She's not from Wookie Hole or Nether Wallop or somesuch rural idyll full of fairies and elves, she's from Hammersmith. Much of her inspiration, she says, comes from authors like JD Salinger and Edward Gorey (even his name sounds, you know, a bit horrific) and films such as Harold and Maude, a comical but disturbing tale of a love affair between an old lady and a boy. She created her own fanzine, Brain Bulletin, when she was at secondary school, and proceeded to distribute it in a launderette on Shepherd's Bush Road. And she describes what she does as "a new take on psychedelic folk music, very British, a little like Syd Barrett, who was very childlike in his own way". Barrett had pretty much lost his mind and reverted to a state that was, yes, almost childlike in its defection from reality by the time he'd left his teens. We trust Laurent-Marke knows what she's playing with here.